Guy Fieri has, perhaps unintentionally, found himself in the middle of political intrigue after photos circulated on Saturday night showed Trump greeting Fieri at a UFC fight in Vegas. Standing ringside, the two are seen shaking hands and seemingly having a pleasant interaction. Right-wing pundit Benny Johnson tweeted the image with the caption “Trump in Flavor Town.”
Many Fieri fans are furious, speculating about his politics and wondering if he was secretly sympathetic to Trump and everything he stands for this whole time. MAGA supporters, unsurprisingly, are praising the interaction, saying it’s proof Fieri is on their side. Eater has reached out to Fieri about the interaction and will update if and when there is a response.
Fieri has built his reputation as a man of the people, and has spent much of the past few years upping his credentials as a philanthropist. He raised $25 million for restaurant workers during the early days of the pandemic, which was made available as one-time $500 grants. He’s also officiated same-sex weddings, fed people during the California wildfires, and promotes small, independent businesses on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. And many have come to realize that the criticisms he and his restaurants faced earlier in his career were largely based on aesthetics and classism, with critics equating frosted tips with material harm.
Fieri has also never been particularly forthcoming about his politics, which has “allowed fans to project whatever they want onto him,” wrote Matt Schimkowitz in a 2021 article for AV Club. But the apolitical facade has occasionally slipped. In 2021, he compared restaurant workers collecting unemployment instead of returning to work — amid still rampant COVID cases — to children who want to gorge themselves on junk food instead of vegetables. Fieri’s behavior on the set of his shows has also been called into question. In 2011, amidst a lawsuit and countersuit between Food Network and DDD producer David Page, Page recalled to City Pages instances of inappropriate jokes, and a time when Fieri insisted on leaving a restaurant because he believed the proprietors were gay. “Those people weird me out!” Page remembered him saying (at the time, Fieri’s team denied the allegations).
“Part of one’s investment in watching someone like Fieri is that they are who they claim to be,” wrote Schimkowitz. “He’s not a folk hero, though. He’s a millionaire sitting atop an empire.” And as such, he is likely more invested in maintaining that position than anything else. We will probably never know if Fieri actually supports Trump or was grinning and bearing it to appear amiable to everyone, but at this point, what’s the difference?
Fieri has made it clear that being polite to a hateful, transphobic, racist liar is his priority, whether it’s because he doesn’t want to alienate Trump fans who watch his show, or just because he didn’t know how to awkwardly turn down a handshake. It’s not particularly surprising, and as we get into election season, these kinds of interactions are going to be happening more and more. Still, it is disheartening. And a reminder that there’s no such thing as being apolitical.